اسپانیایی و تخت پادشاهی

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کتاب های فوق متوسط

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اسپانیایی و تخت پادشاهی

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Chapter 7 The Spaniard and the Crowd

Crowds of people came down the hillside from their small houses above the Moroccan town. They were all going toward the arena, hoping to put a little excitement into their difficult lives.

Maximus’s arm, now without the letters SPQR, was covered with an arm guard. He had earned the extra protection of armor because of his brave fighting. He bent and picked up some dirt from the ground, watched it disappear through his fingers, and walked quickly toward the entrance to the arena. Proximo walked with him.

“You just kill, kill, kill!” Proximo shouted at Maximus. “You make it look too easy. The crowd wants a hero, not just someone cutting up meat. We want them to keep coming back. Don’t kill so quickly—take more time!” The cheers of the crowd grew louder as they got closer to the arena. “Give them an adventure to remember!” Proximo shouted above the noise. “Fall to one knee—they’ll think you’re finished. Then force yourself to your feet—our hero!” He was rushing along to keep up with Maximus. “Remember, you’re an entertainer!” Without a word to Proximo, Maximus walked out into the arena. There was a cheer immediately. He was a known fighter now, and the Moroccans knew they were going to see some real action.

Out in the bright sunlight, six fighters waited. Maximus looked at them and decided immediately on his method of attack. He chose the strongest and most confident man first. When that man went down, the others would know they had no chance. He cut them down, one by one, his sword striking through their bodies with great speed. It was all finished in a few minutes.

The crowd stood and cheered. They shouted, “Spaniard!

Spaniard!”

Proximo got up from his seat and walked out.

Maximus dropped his arm to his side, stepped over a body, and walked back toward the exit. He picked up a sword from the sand and threw it into the crowd. As it fell to the floor, the screaming crowd grew silent, watching and waiting.

“Are you not entertained?” Maximus shouted at them. “Is this not why you came?” He threw down his own sword and walked out of the arena gates and back to the prison area.

In the cool of the evening, Maximus and Juba stood inside the gates of Proximo’s school. They looked out over the desert to the mountains in the distance.

“My country—it’s somewhere out there,” Juba said. “My home. My wife is preparing food and my daughters are carrying water from the river. Will I ever see them again? I think not.” “Do you believe you’ll meet them again—after you die?” Maximus asked.

“I think so,” Juba said. “But I will die soon. They will not die for many years.”

“But you would wait for them.”

“Of course,” Juba said.

“I almost died, coming here,” said Maximus. “You saved me. I never thanked you” Maximus looked at Juba, and there was pain in his eyes. “Because my wife, and my son, are waiting for me.” Juba understood. “You’ll meet them again,” he said. “But not yet, yes?” He laughed. This team was not ready for death.

Later that evening, two guards came to find Maximus. They took him to Proximo.

“Ah, Spaniard,” he said, sending the guards away. “It worries me that although you’re good, you could be better. You could be the greatest.”

“You want me to kill. I kill,” Maximus said. “That’s enough.” He turned to walk out.

“Enough for a small Moroccan town like this,” Proximo called after him. “But not for Rome.”

Maximus stopped. “Rome?” he said, suddenly interested.

“My men have just brought the news,” Proximo said. “The young Emperor has arranged some games in honor of his dead father, Marcus Aurelius. It’s strange to think that I had to leave my school in Rome years ago because his father stopped all gladiator contests. But his day has ended now.”

“Yes,” said Maximus, quietly, angrily.

Proximo laughed. “We’re going back! After five years in this terrible place we’re going back to the Colosseum,” he said. “Ah, Spaniard, wait until you fight in the Colosseum. Fifty thousand Romans following every move of your sword. The silence before you strike. The cry that comes after—like a storm!” He stopped and looked to the heavens, his eyes shining.

Maximus saw the memories lighting up Proximo’s face and suddenly he understood. “You were once a gladiator,” he said.

Proximo looked back at him. “The best,” he said.

“You won your freedom?” Maximus asked.

“A long time ago.” Proximo went into the next room and came back carrying a small wooden sword. “The Emperor gave me this. A sign of freedom. He touched me on the shoulder and I was free.”

On the handle of the sword was Proximo’s name and the words, “Free man—By Order of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.” “I, too, want to stand in front of the Emperor, as you did.” “Then listen to me,” said Proximo. “Learn from me. I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom.” Maximus knew that he was right. “I’ll win the crowd. I’ll give them something they’ve never seen before.”

In the royal palace Commodus stood looking down at Lucius, asleep in his bed. Lucilla entered quietly behind him. She stood in the doorway, watching, worried.

“He sleeps so well because he is loved,” said Commodus, gently brushing a hair from Lucius’s face.

Lucilla moved forward quickly. Lucius turned over and she thought he was waking. “Shh . . . go back to sleep now,” she said.

She pulled his blanket closer and watched him breathe deeply, already dreaming again. “Come, brother, it’s late,” she said, turning away and knowing he would follow her.

Back in his own room Commodus sat on the bed and picked up a document. He looked at it, then let it fall to the floor. The table next to his bed was covered in other papers—plans for the New Rome and documents from the Senate.

“I can’t sleep,” he complained. “The Senate is always sending me papers. And my own dreams for Rome are making my head ache.”

Lucilla prepared a drink for him, secretly mixing in some medicine. “Quiet, brother, this will help.” She held out the drink to him and watched as he drank it.

“Are the people ready for me to close the Senate yet? What do you think? Should I have the senators killed? Some or all of them?” he asked Lucilla.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Sleep now,” she said. She thought to herself, “Rome is in frightening hands. Thank the gods that I am here to control him.”

“Will you stay with me?” Commodus asked Lucilla.

“Still afraid of the dark, brother?” Lucilla smiled gently, kissed him, and then started to go. She stopped at the door and looked back.

Commodus lay on the bed, a lonely figure, his eyes wide open.

“Sleep, brother,” Lucilla said.

In the royal palace Commodus stood looking down at Lucius, asleep in his bed. Lucilla entered quietly behind him. She stood in the doorway, watching, worried.

“He sleeps so well because he is loved,” said Commodus, gently brushing a hair from Lucius’s face.

Lucilla moved forward quickly. Lucius turned over and she thought he was waking. “Shh . . . go back to sleep now,” she said.

She pulled his blanket closer and watched him breathe deeply, already dreaming again. “Come, brother, it’s late,” she said, turning away and knowing he would follow her.

Back in his own room Commodus sat on the bed and picked up a document. He looked at it, then let it fall to the floor. The table next to his bed was covered in other papers—plans for the New Rome and documents from the Senate.

“I can’t sleep,” he complained. “The Senate is always sending me papers. And my own dreams for Rome are making my head ache.”

Lucilla prepared a drink for him, secretly mixing in some medicine. “Quiet, brother, this will help.” She held out the drink to him and watched as he drank it.

“Are the people ready for me to close the Senate yet? What do you think? Should I have the senators killed? Some or all of them?” he asked Lucilla.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Sleep now,” she said. She thought to herself, “Rome is in frightening hands. Thank the gods that I am here to control him.”

“Will you stay with me?” Commodus asked Lucilla.

“Still afraid of the dark, brother?” Lucilla smiled gently, kissed him, and then started to go. She stopped at the door and looked back.

Commodus lay on the bed, a lonely figure, his eyes wide open.

“Sleep, brother,” Lucilla said.

“The future is paying,” Lucilla answered. “He’s started selling the wheat we have saved. In two years time the people will die of hunger. I hope they’re enjoying the games now because soon these games will be the reason their children are dead.” “This can’t be true,” said Gaius. “Rome must know this.” “And who will tell them?” asked Lucilla. “You, Gaius? Or you, Gracchus? Will you make a speech in the Senate and then see your family killed in the Colosseum?” She looked from one man to the other. “He must die,” she said.

“Quintus and the guards would take control themselves,” said Gaius.

“And we haven’t got enough men. The army may not be loyal to us,” said Gracchus. “No, we must wait, prepare, and be ready.

We can do nothing while he has the support of the people. But every day he makes more enemies. One day he will have more enemies than friends, and then we will strike. Until then, we must be patient.”

Proximo and his gladiators were near Rome by late afternoon.

Proximo could see that something had changed since he left five years before. Rome had become an army camp.

When they were inside the city walls, he noticed other things.

The city was poorer and dirtier than he remembered it.

At last they arrived at Proximo’s old school, where the gates were still locked as he had left them. The gladiators were glad to get out of the box they had traveled in. They looked around.

Across the rooftops of Rome, only a short distance away, was an enormous building: the great Colosseum.

Maximus, Juba, and the others stared at it, listening to the sound of 50,000 voices shouting for blood. Each man was thinking, “Is that where I die?”

From the great arena came another sound: “Caesar! Caesar!

Proximo knew this meant that the Emperor had just arrived.

He looked across at Maximus. “Win the crowd” he said softly.

Maximus had only one thought: “He is there. He is close. The time is coming when I will see him myself: the man I live to kill.” ♦

It was late morning of the following day when Maximus and the other gladiators were taken to the Colosseum. They were put into cages under the seats of the arena.

Crowds of people came past to look at the new fighters, to guess which ones were winners and which would die. Maximus sat at the back of the cage, taking no notice of them.

He could hear Proximo talking loudly to a man called Cassius, whose job was to organize the contests in the Colosseum. He also had to please the Emperor.

“The Emperor wants battles?” Proximo shouted. “My men are highly trained single fighters. I refuse to let them die like that.

They will be wasted in this stupid piece of theater.” “The crowd wants battles, so the Emperor gives them battles,” Cassius replied, “and your gladiators are going to act the Battle of Carthage . You have no choice.”

Their voices grew quieter as they walked away.

Among the passing crowds were some young boys from rich families, watched by their servants. Maximus took no notice of them until a voice suddenly made him turn his head.

“Gladiator!” It was one of the boys, fair-haired and about the same age as Maximus’s son. “Gladiator, are you the one they call ‘the Spaniard?’ ” he asked.

Maximus moved closer to the boy. “Yes,” he said.

“They said you were enormous. They said you could squeeze a man’s head until it broke, with just one hand,” said the boy.

Battle of Carthage: the last of a number of wars between Rome and the city of Carthage (now Tunis) in North Africa in 146 B.C. (before the birth of Christ).

Maximus looked down at his hand. “A man’s? No . . .” he said He held out his hand and smiled. “But maybe a boy’s . . .” The boy smiled back. “I like you, Spaniard,” he said. “I shall cheer for you.”

Maximus was shocked. “They let you watch the games?” he asked.

“My uncle says they will make me strong,” the boy replied.

“But what does your father say?”

“My father’s dead.”

The boy’s servant came to him and took his hand. “Come, Lucius. It’s time to go.”

“Your name’s Lucius?” asked Maximus.

“Lucius Verus, like my father,” Lucius said proudly. He turned and left, followed by the servant.

With a shock, Maximus suddenly realized that the boy must be Lucilla’s son. He searched the crowd—was Lucilla somewhere out there? But although he kept looking, he could not see her. He could only see the faces of people who were thirsty for blood.

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